IMAGE: PLANE DESTROYED BY FIRE
IRINN via Reuters
Firefighters clean up after an Iranian passenger plane caught fire at an airport in the city of Mashhad on Friday.
updated 9/1/2006 7:07:34 PM ET 2006-09-01T23:07:34

A landing Iranian passenger plane skidded off the runway and raked its wing along the ground, sparking a fire that killed 29 of the 148 people on board Friday in the latest deadly crash of a Russian-made aircraft.

Rescue workers in the northeastern city of Mashhad carried survivors on stretchers out of the gutted craft, which lay in a pool of water near the runway with its middle charred and its roof collapsed. Iranian television footage showed firefighters spraying the engines with water.

“The plane was shaking badly during the landing, then it suddenly lurched to the left,” one survivor, Sahar Karimi, told The Associated Press by telephone from a hospital in Mashhad.

“Then it caught fire, and all the passengers rushed to the emergency exit,” she said.

State television reported that a tire exploded as the plane landed, but the spokesman for Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, Reza Jafarzadeh, said investigators had not confirmed that and it was still not clear what caused the plane to slide off the runway.

The 11 crew members survived, “and this can help the investigation team to reach its conclusions sooner,” he said.

The flight by Iran Airtour, which is affiliated with Iran’s national air carrier, was arriving from Bandar Abbas on Iran’s southern coast when the accident occurred.

The plane slid off the runway, “then its left wing hit the ground and caught fire,” civil aviation chairman Nourollah Rezai Niaraki said in a television interview.

He said 29 passengers were killed, correcting an earlier television report of 80 dead.

The craft was a Russian-made Tupolev 154. A Tu-154 owned by Russia’s Pulkovo Airlines crashed in Ukraine on Aug. 22 while en route from a Russian resort to St. Petersburg, killing all 170 people on board.

In 2002, a Russian-made Tu-154 — also operated by Iran Airtour — crashed in the mountains of western Iran, killing all 119 people aboard.

Mashhad, located 620 miles northeast of Tehran, is visited by some 12 million people a year on pilgrimage to its Shiite Islamic shrines. It was not clear if Friday’s flight included pilgrims.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issued condolences to the families of the victims, and state radio read off the names of hospitals where the injured had been taken.

110 killed in December
Iran has frequent air accidents, blamed on its aging fleet of aircraft and poor maintenance. In the deadliest recent crash, 110 people were killed in December when a military transport hit a building near Tehran’s airport.

The country often blames the accidents on U.S. sanctions barring American companies from selling to Iran. Its airlines have tried to upgrade their fleet by buying European aircraft but have been turned down amid U.S. pressure on Europe not to sell.

However, it does not have similar difficulty buying parts for its Russian planes. Iranian airlines have bought Russian craft in recent years, but usually secondhand ones to save money.

Western nations have offered to open the door to sales of new planes and spare parts in an incentive package aimed at getting the nation to roll back its nuclear program. Ahmadinejad has vowed never to give up the program.

Tupolev background
Iran’s 13 airlines have 120 planes, with an average age of 16. Iran Airtour has 12 Tupolevs.

The country’s main carrier, Iran Air, has seven Tupolevs among its 43-plane fleet. It also has seven Boeings bought before the 1979 Islamic revolution and 28 European Airbus and Fokker aircraft.

The workhorse of passenger airlines in the former Soviet Union, the Tu-154 has been in commercial service since 1972. More than 900 have been built and more than 160 exported to airlines around the world, particularly in former Soviet-bloc countries and Iran. Because of noise and pollution regulations, the planes do not fly to Western destinations.

Since they were introduced, 62 of the planes, or about 7 percent, have been damaged in crashes or hard landings — the deadliest in 1984 when a Tupolev landing at an airport in eastern Siberia smashed into cleaning vehicles left on the runway, killing 174 people.

About 5 percent of the comparable 1,800 727s built by Boeing have been involved in crashes, and about 1 percent of the 1,400 Airbus 320s.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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